To Thunderbird from Bolivia: Student seizes opportunities to succeed and give back

Thursday, August 17, 2017

This profile is part of a series highlighting the personal stories and achievements of Thunderbird students. Ready to read more? Subscribe to the Knowledge Network newsletter.

What do Bolivia, the United States, Israel, Madagascar and Iran have in common?

The answer is right here at Thunderbird: Juan Carlos Quiroga, who is traveling a dynamic path across countries and cultures to pursue his goals in international business development.

Born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia, Quiroga first came to the United States for a study abroad program at the University of Oklahoma. After returning to Bolivia, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship, co-founding an online magazine called Socialité Bolivia. Next came a scholarship from FUNBOLIDER to do a certification at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, and Georgetown University to obtain a certification in leadership and global competitiveness.

Quiroga continued to steer his path toward business, later securing an internship in the oil and gas industry in Houston, where within four years he moved up from intern to operations manager. During that time, he had the honor of representing Bolivia as an ambassador at the World Youth Forum, organized by Fundacion de Jovenes Lideres in Argentina.

After this whirlwind of experiences, Quiroga was ready to pursue a master’s degree at Thunderbird.

“Of course, I’m a businessperson so I did my research,” he said. “Thunderbird was in my top three, so I applied to it and the others. But I was always aiming for Thunderbird because I knew what I wanted to achieve and the opportunity Thunderbird would give me in international business.”

Since arriving on campus, Quiroga has kept the same brisk pace of activity.

“I’m a firm advocate of doing things,” he said. He is a campus ambassador, a member of honor council, student government and the Latin American Club, as well as a co-founder of the Bolivia Club. He also recently represented Thunderbird at the International Business Ethics Case Competition in Santa Monica, California, where his 90-second pitch was the winning presentation.

And there’s more to come. In the months ahead, Quiroga will travel to Israel for a Forbes 30-under-30 global summit, networking with about 600 other young leaders, CEOs and start-up founders. He will then travel to Madagascar with Thunderbird Emerging Markets Lab (TEM Lab), a competitive consulting opportunity available to students, to work with Rio Tinto.

“A lot of things are happening,” he said. “Thunderbird gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and to expand my cultural condition and mindset. I believe there’s always room to improve and learn.”

One of those learning experiences came in December 2016 when he traveled to Iran for the first time.

“A fellow T-bird extended an invitation. It wasn’t planned at all. So when I saw myself with my classmate in Tehran, walking around in this bazaar carrying my Thunderbird backpack, I told myself, ‘Wow, what made this happen?’ Somebody opened the doors to his house, to his culture and invited me to discover new places I’d never imagined. It was a really good experience — and it showed me the real Iran.”

Beautiful, complex Bolivia

After graduation in December 2017, Carlos plans to establish himself in the United States for a couple of years.

“I want to work in international business development for the oil and gas industry and in mining,” he said. “Eventually, I would like to go back to Bolivia to transfer all the knowledge that I have.”

Quiroga’s roots run deep in Bolivia and even include a great-grandfather, Felipe Segundo Guzman, who was president of the country in 1925. “Growing up there, it is very family-oriented. I learned the importance of caring about others. My family taught me since I was a little boy and gave me a lot of values and love that made me the person I am today.”

 “I’m focused on expanding and opening minds, and ideally I would like to go back and do that in my country.”

“Bolivia is a beautiful country but a complex country,” Quiroga said. As he sees it, the biggest problem is the mind-set.

“People tend to think 500 years in the past instead of 500 years ahead,” he explained.

“So I think we need to change that mentality. I’m focused on expanding and opening minds, and ideally I would like to go back and do things for my country. I believe that life isn’t just about receiving — you have to give back.”

‘Everything is interconnected’

Quiroga credits his fellow T-birds for helping expand and open his own mind. “You interact with people from all over the world, whether you’re in class or out of class. It’s beautiful, because you learn from so many cultures 24/7.”

He also understands that cultural awareness and global focus can translate into business success.

“We all are somehow immersed in globalization and the internationalization of things,” he said. “When we eat, when we buy, when we do business, we are all exposed to it. Where is the country of origin branding, what emerging markets are we supporting overseas, how do we negotiate with suppliers? Everything is interconnected now.”

“It’s important to know how to negotiate with individuals, always respecting the culture and the people you are doing business with. And thinking locally when you’re doing business, but also having a strategy globally.”

“We all are somehow immersed in globalization … when we eat, when we buy, when we do business, we are all exposed to it.”

Thunderbird is right to emphasize business ethics, he says, because “overseas, there may be regions that are not very regulated. Informal and illegal things can occur, and some people may try to do things under the table. So here we learn the honor code. There are some things to read and some things to just carry in your heart. It’s all important.”

Quiroga looks forward to representing Thunderbird in the upcoming ethics case competition in Santa Monica. “It’s a great opportunity — Thunderbird won first prize last year, so we’re aiming to come back with good news for a second time.”

T-bird ‘brand awareness’

Whether he’s in an ethics case competition, an internship or any other activity, Quiroga is always mindful of Thunderbird “brand awareness.” One appeal of that brand, he said, is that Thunderbird is an unconventional business school.

“It’s a super collaborative environment,” he said. “Of course it’s competitive — that’s healthy. But people help and collaborate in every aspect so all of us can grow as a ‘we.’”

As an example, he points to ThunderLeaf, a campus garden created by fellow T-birds.

“It goes beyond just gardening,” he explained. “Gardening reduces stress, and by reducing stress we increase productivity. We go to the garden to talk, to just sit down in the grass and study. Those little things make Thunderbird great.”

“Wherever I go, I try to reinforce the T-bird brand,” he said. “I feel privileged to be a part of Thunderbird — we’re a family. It is amazing how the T-bird family and culture and values do not disappear over time. And of course that also leverages into business opportunities and networks for the future.”

“We are all here facing the same opportunity. We’re investing our two top resources: time and money,” he said. “If you stay in your room, sleeping all day, you’re not going to have the same experience as people who are involved. Opportunities will not knock at your door— you have to go out and look for them.”

“So if it’s up to you, why not do it?”